Why Poetry? However can we justify it?
Hurting today. Suicides, a fresh conversation about depression that still isn’t the needful one, more black men gunned down in this our police state (it is a police state for brown boys). Less Greek and more raging, then writing, today. Maybe that’s the plaintive answer to “why ever poetry?” Because as much as today hurt, as a poet I can ask myself “how can I use this?” even as the feelings are overwhelming. There’s an outlet and a purpose, albeit manufactured with effort.
Also feeling grateful today that I feel part of a community of people to whom I’m responsible for responding clearly and with nuance when the world happens. Posted on Facebook tonight because I needed to respond somehow–and even though it’s the no-man’s land of social media, I felt connected to the writers pouring out words on the interwebs today.
The old anger is fresh today and it’s asking “why poetry? How, in this godforsaken world of ours?” I can’t put words to it. I have my doubts, as do all the faithful. A few attempts at an answer:
(1) Poetry, practiced right, is a running towards and not a seclusion from the world. It is absolutely not and cannot be direct political action or social change (and I’m not up to debating you on that today, just bear with me). But it can be a channel for anger that would otherwise simply make the piston waffle around furiously aimless. It is not a vehicle for making others see more clearly, but it is a step forward from stewing in emotions that would otherwise overwhelm the poet or narrow the poet’s world.
(2) I’m going to feel the anger and the hurt and the hopelessness anyway. If I write them down, they become choate (or less inchoate). Refined anger is more useful anger, even for a definition of useful limited to “actionable.” Distilled hopelessness takes up less space in the brain. At the same time, poetry is less pernicious than overt rationalization in how it lets us precipitate out a feeling for later consideration, rather than insisting the feeling doesn’t or shouldn’t exist.
(3) Practicing poetry is hard enough that it takes up at least a small part of my store of attention that would otherwise be spread thin over all the solid reasons not to value the world we have. It lets me actively call out one evil–though only to myself and for my own useless benefit–instead of throwing up my hands in the general direction of all of them. It thus gives practice in seeing into an evil in search of understanding. That practice might be important at some crucial instant, though probably not in my lifetime. The thin hope of this potential use is enough of a reason to keep practicing poetry and it is a value I can see, though the smallest thing.”